Over 1.6 million join hands to call for Catalan independence

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The Catalan Ministery of the Interior has estimated that at least 1.6 million Catalans participated in a human chain on Wednesday, stretching from the French border to the south of Catalonia, in a demonstration of support for independence.

Organisers of the event, the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC – Catalan National Assembly) said that turnout for the human chain, known as the Via Humana in Catalan, had greatly exceeded their original expectation of 1 million participants.

Decked in the the red and yellow flag of Catalonia bearing the single star of the hoped for Catalan Republic, crowds of Catalan citizens lined the country’s highways in a good natured celebration of Catalonia, its language, culture, and the right of Catalans to determine their nation’s own future.  Holding hands and chanting “independència” and “anticapitalisme”, they formed a human chain over 400 kilometres long, running the entire length of the country.

After the event, Ramon Espadaler, the Catalan Minister of the Interior, announced that in “no way” was the number who attended less than 1.6 million.  The Barcelona Municipal Police stated that in Barcelona alone there were more than half a million demonstrators.  

A spokesperson for the ANC claimed that the event, held on La Diada, Catalonia’s national day, was a great success, calling it “a new demonstration of force for the referendum on self-determination to be held in 2014.”  The spokesperson added:

“[The Via Humana] has broken through all the forecasts and has exceeded the numbers who took part in the demonstration on La Diada 2012, when a million and a half people – according to the local police – filled the streets of Barcelona.”

Addressing the crowds in the centre of Barcelona at the symbolic mid-point of the chain, leader of the ANC Carme Forcadell called on Catalan politicians to hold a referendum on Catalan self-determination in 2014 and said:

“Here and now the Catalan National Assembly reiterates the promise to work without faltering until Catalonia becomes a new European state.  We do not want to wait any longer.”

Ms Forcadell said that the Catalans wanted a clear and simple question on the ballot paper, and a “clear answer”. 

She added:

“We want the year 2014, the 300th anniversary of our defeat [when Catalonia lost its traditional autonomy], to become the first year of our freedom!”

Official spokesman for the Catalan government, Fransesc Homs, said that Wednesday’s event could not ignored by Madrid, and added that the Catalan government felt “reinforced”.

The Madrid government has yet to make an official response to the demonstration, although it is unlikely to shift the intransigence of the Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy which insists that Catalonia does not have the right to self-determination and that any referendum would be illegal.

Although the day’s events in Catalonia passed off peacefully, the office of the Catalan Government in Madrid was attacked on Wednesday evening by a group of right wing extremists.  Around 15 ultra-rightists chanting “Catalonia is Spain” invaded a celebration of the Catalan national day being held in the Centre Cultural Blanquerna in the centre of Madrid. 

The assailants set off tear gas, broke windows and tore down the Catalan emblems in the Centre.  A number of those attending the Centre were punched and kicked during the attack, but no serious injuries were reported.

Meanwhile a new opinion poll shows that an absolute majority of Catalans want independence.  According to the poll for Cadena Ser, 52% want independence, against just 24% who want to remain a part of Spain, the remainding 24% saying that they either were undecided, or had decided not to vote. 

An even larger majority, 80.5%, support the right of the Catalans – or any other autonomous community in the Spanish state – to hold a referendum on independence.

In a sign that Catalonia’s momentum towards independence has become unstoppable, the poll also found that a majority would still support independence even if the Catalan government was able to negotiate a new statute of autonomy with Madrid – which could give Catalonia a status similar to that proposed by “devo-max” supporters.  Even if this was agreed, and Madrid shows no inclination to grant extra powers, 46.8% of Catalans would still support independence, with just 27% favouring retaining the union with Spain.